It happens sometimes, like the other morning. I was waiting for a bus on a familiar wet windy corner. A young man approached me and we grinned with mutual sympathy (‘waiting for the number 10 ‘can be quite a bonding experience.) We began to talk. ‘I am Joseph’ he said extending his hand. I told him my name and we shook hands. His home is Singapore where he told me there is a constant temperature of 22 degrees throughout the year. He is in his second year, studying pharmacy in Bath University.
We were joined by a student known to him; she I discovered is in her fourth year, studying maths. I sat with her when the bus came and asked her what she hoped to do when she graduated. She didn’t want to teach and was exploring other possibilities. She has grown to like Bath so much that if possible would be glad to get her first job here. When both my temporary friends got off the bus, I had that recurrent wish that I was young again, which is crazy.
Crazy for all sorts of reasons.
When, for example would I want to be young? Surely not in the late 1940’s when I was beginning to find myself but not too sure of what I was finding and living in a fairly repressed social culture and with no clear idea of what I wanted to do or what I was capable of. I suppose I would enjoy the freedom but I think it would probably be more fun to be young today, when at least I imagine freedom is virtually unlimited.
And yet despite the fact that they are at the beginning of life, younger people today face a very uncertain tomorrow. Students go to university with an enormous debt payable when they begin to earn, but with no certainty that they will be employed. And what about when they need a home? There is a massive housing crises in the U.K.,and no statutory restrictions on the costs of renting – one hears of terrible charges inflicted by landlords.
And because people are living longer, the young people of today are going to have to look after their elders, before they too become old.
So the day-dream of wishing I was young again is what it is : nostalgia without substance. There are 16,000 students at our two universities in Bath and in term time they help to balance the very many older residents who like me struggle around the city. I affirm them in their studies and their right to be irresponsible when they want to be for as long as they can be.
And I will not try not to envy them.